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At the end of last week: according to several media such as The Telegraph, Bruce Willis sold his likeness to a deepfake company and we can expect upcoming movies with his digital double. As a reminder, deepfakes are a technology that relies on AI / deep learning. It makes it easier to replace one person with another in a video. For example, a French TV show recently used this kind of approach to create interviews of deceased celebrities such as actors, a former President and Lady Di.
The announcement regarding Bruce Willis was all the more believable by the fact that the actor recently explained he was stepping out of acting after being diagnosed with aphasia, a disease that can impact speech and understanding.
This news has been published by many news media, but there’s a catch: it’s not true.
Bruce Willis denies having sold his likeness, the deepfake company denies having bought the rights
Willis’ representative explained to the Hollywood Reporter that the actor “has no partnership or agreement with this Deepcake company.” Deepcake also denied they owned the rights to his likeness.
Why did so many media get fooled?
Many media such as The Telegraph seem to have misunderstood an announcement from last year involving Bruce Willis and Deepcake, but that had nothing to do with films. Back in 2021, Bruce Willis appeared as a deepfake in an ad campaign for a mobile phone operator. the VFX were handled by CGF and Deepcake, the latter being tasked with creating the deepfake/digital double. It took two weeks and about 34.000 pictures and videos of Bruce Willis to train their tool. Here is the end result, as well as a making-of video:
To sum things up: yes, Bruce Willis and Deepcake did sign an agreement about creating deepfakes of Bruce Willis, but only for those ads and months ago. Nothing has been announced or signed regarding movies or even future ads.
Behind the “Fake news”, a real trend?
Even if this news is baseless, the idea behind it will probably become quite common.
The Star Wars franchise already used digital doubles of deceased actors and actresses (Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing) or recreated younger versions of them (for example, Mark Hamill). Even though these examples used traditional CGI (3D models), it’s quite obvious that deepfakes will also be used in this kind of situation.
Meanwhile, the likeness of celebrities is indeed sold to companies. Marvel recently acquired the name and likeness of Stan Lee for 20 years, for example, and they do have the right to use this likeness in movies.
It is therefore safe to say that this kind of contract will be more and more prevalent when actors and actresses retire or die.